Immigrant licenses emerge as ‘08 issue

THURSDAY, NOV. 1, 2007

PHILADELPHIA – On the day after the Democratic debate here, the tempest generated by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s handling of the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants refused to go away.

Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike joined in criticizing her Wednesday.

And the Clinton campaign, hoping the episode will not become a metaphor for evasiveness, clarified her position on the issue and put out a Web video mocking her opponents for “piling on.”

In the debate, Clinton struggled with a question about whether she supported a proposal by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to allow illegal immigrants to get licenses.

At first, she appeared to endorse the idea, saying she understood why Spitzer wanted to issue licenses. Then, she seemed to reject it, saying she “didn’t think this was the best thing for any governor to do.”

Her Democratic rivals seized upon her performance, hoping to use it as confirmation of their claim that she has avoided specific positions.

“I think last night’s debate really exposed this fault line,” Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said on Wednesday. Wednesday, the Clinton campaign issued a statement confirming that she does, in fact, support the Spitzer plan.

Republicans joined in the attack on the Democratic front-runner, slamming her both for waffling and her support for an idea that the electorate does not welcome.

According to a CNN/USA Today survey taken in mid-October, Americans oppose licenses for illegal immigrants by a 3-1 ratio. Democrats oppose it by almost 2-1.

The candidates themselves are divided on the issue, a fact obscured by all of the attention paid to Clinton’s back-and-forth during the debate.

Obama, after saying that he couldn’t “tell whether she was for it or against it,” supported licenses for illegals.

In a show of hands during the debate, three other candidates appeared to support it: Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio.

Senators Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, and Joseph Biden, of Delaware, said they opposed the proposal.


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